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Mrs. Beckett: I certainly cannot undertake to find time for such a debate in the near future. I strongly hold the view, as the hon. Lady will know, that there is not, and should not be, such a thing as two different kinds of Member of Parliament. I should be surprised if my hon. Friends who sit for Scottish and Welsh constituencies--of course, they are only hon. Friends; there are no Scottish or Welsh Members on the Conservative Benches--find their work loads reduced. The hon. Lady is asking me to comment on a decision made by the Scottish Parliament, for which I am happy to say that I do not have responsibility.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): This week, we have heard the Prime Minister extol the virtues of both the single market and the single currency. Will the Leader of the House give him the opportunity to come to the House to explain to us and to the people of this country why he has changed his mind? In 1983, he stood on a platform of leaving the European Community. In 1986, with the Labour party, he voted against the Single European Act, which set up the single market. The right hon. Lady may not be aware that, in 1986, when the right hon. Gentleman opposed the European monetary system, the precursor of economic and monetary union, he said:

the then president of the Bundesbank--

    "in 11 Downing street."--[Official Report, 29 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 990.]

Should we not now know why the Prime Minister not only believes that he was so fundamentally wrong on Europe for all that time, but thinks that people should vote for him today because he is now so miraculously right on it?

Mrs. Beckett: I certainly cannot undertake to find time for such a debate. Apart from anything else, it would clearly be a complete waste of time. It does not seem to have struck the hon. Gentleman that, although the Conservative party put through the Single European Act,

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many Conservative Members seem to regret it. If we are talking about people changing their minds, the Conservatives should look into their own record.

As to why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might have changed his mind since 1983, no doubt he did so for the same reasons that I changed mine. I was an anti-European and a sceptic long before some of those Conservative Members who now make those claims--and with much more assiduity than them. However, I realise that it was the decision of the British people to remain in the European Community and that that decision was reaffirmed in 1983. The balance of advantage and damage of staying in or coming out has long since swung in favour of our membership of the European Union, as it now is. In that case, there is no question but that it is in Britain's interests to work to make the greatest possible success of our membership of the European Union. That is the Government's goal, because we have long since concluded that to leave the EU would be a huge disaster for Britain. However, that seems to be the direction of the Conservative party.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) about the importance of the publication of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into Milk Marque. That is crucial to dairy farmers and food processors in my constituency and throughout the country.

My main reason for rising is to welcome the debate on Kosovo. Will it cover not only the important subjects of foreign affairs and defence but the essential responsibilities of the Secretary of State for International Development? Will we consider the humanitarian efforts that have been accomplished during recent months and those that will be undertaken in the future? Will the debate cover the important question of the extent to which the budget of the Department for International Development will be protected to enable the Department to do its job, not only in the Balkans but elsewhere?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot add to what I said earlier about the MMC report. I have undertaken to draw hon. Members' concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I am sure that issues touching on the responsibilities of the Department for International Development are bound to be raised during the debate on Kosovo. That will give an opportunity for hon. Members to put questions such as those which the hon. Gentleman has just asked me.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement next week on any Government proposals which we can debate for a statutory allocation of time off for involvement in future European elections? I am sure that the right hon. Lady will understand that I make that request not because I want to bunk off myself--she knows that I am an assiduous attender of the Chamber--but for a different reason. Although Conservative Members of Parliament found plenty of time to campaign for national self-government and for Britain to be in Europe, but not run by Europe, I am genuinely concerned--on the grounds of the importance of the vitality of our democracy--that Ministers seemed unable to find time to

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argue for Labour's policy of capitulation within the European Union. Does the right hon. Lady intend to address that point in future?

Mrs. Beckett: I was not quite clear for whom the hon. Gentleman was asking for time off during future European elections. I now understand that it is for the House--for Members of Parliament. If he has been paying attention--as I know that he does during Question Time--he may recall that I have pointed out previously that there is only one precedent for the House not sitting during European elections. That was in 1994, when the Conservative Government were desperate to avoid scrutiny of any kind.

As for Ministers not finding time to campaign, I am afraid that I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman: 250 campaign visits have been undertaken by Ministers since the local elections.

Mr. Bercow: Unnoticed.

Mrs. Beckett: Indeed, it is a matter of much concern to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends that they did not achieve more publicity. We have come to a conclusion as to why that is so; it is because we have been consistently advocating the same policy throughout the campaign, which the press find very boring, whereas the Conservatives, excitingly, change their policy every day.


Food Standards

Mr. Nicholas Brown, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Reid, Mr. Secretary Dobson, Secretary Marjorie Mowlam and Mr. Secretary Michael, presented a Bill to establish the Food Standards Agency and make provision as to its functions, to amend the law relating to food safety and other interests of consumers in relation to food; to enable provision to be made in relation to the notification of tests for food-borne diseases; to enable provision to be made in relation to animal feedingstuffs; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 117].

Royal Parks (Trading)

Mr. Peter Brooke presented a Bill to make provision about certain offences under section 2 of the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act 1926: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 116].

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Defence in the World

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1998-99, on 'The future of NATO: The Washington Summit', HC 39, and the Government's response thereto, HC 459.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

1.20 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson): The choice of title for this debate--defence in the world--could not be more appropriate. The defence and security of our country can be guaranteed only by looking beyond the immediate horizons of the United Kingdom. Our security is inextricably linked to the security of our continent and the wider world. As Kosovo has demonstrated only too well, it is only by standing firm with our friends and allies that we can secure peace and stability.

Britain's contribution to collective defence and international security is founded on a unique national asset--the capabilities and commitment of our armed forces. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army, and to their families and the civilians who support them, at a time when the demands that we place upon them are greater than ever.

During the strategic defence review, one of our concerns was the growing lack of knowledge and understanding in society as a whole about defence and the armed forces. In future, we might have to return to that problem of keeping defence in the public eye, but--for the time being at least--the role of the services and the skill and dedication of our service personnel are clear to everyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on a television. Kosovo provides an object lesson in the need to be able to deploy high-capability armed forces when diplomacy fails--a need that was at the heart of the strategic defence review.

Sadly, it took 11 weeks of concerted NATO bombing before Milosevic and his generals were prepared to agree terms for the withdrawal of Serb forces from that tragic province, thus paving the way for the introduction of an international military force to enable the return of the refugees. Now, we must ensure that the final diplomatic steps are taken, that the Serbs abide by their word, and that KFOR crosses the border as soon as possible. We hope that, very soon, the military focus will shift from the air campaign to the task facing the ground troops and all those engaged in the reconstruction of Kosovo. We wish them well.

On this remarkable day, it might help if I remind the House how we got to this position: how we worked, since at least February 1998, to try to get a political settlement and halt the violence then taking place in Kosovo; how we went the extra mile for peace; and how we adopted a series of economic sanctions in the European Union and a mandatory United Nations arms embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In October last year, as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke visited Belgrade against the background of a worsening security situation in Kosovo, we went back to the UN. We got a chapter Vll resolution, determining that that was a threat to regional peace and security and that there was an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

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NATO played its part by threatening the use of force. Milosevic listened, because the threat was credible. In October, he did a deal with Holbrooke, promising to reduce the number of his forces and to restrict their operations, and to allow unarmed verifiers into Kosovo. He then reneged on his word and, through no fault of their own, the members of the Kosovo verification mission were unable to prevent matters from worsening. Then, in January, there was the massacre at Racak.

For 18 days in February, the parties were brought together, under joint British-American chairmanship, in the chateau at Rambouillet. A vital part of the Rambouillet accords concerned the military implementation arrangements; at their heart was a NATO-led military peacekeeping force to ensure a stable security situation in Kosovo. However, when the talks moved on to Paris, it was immediately apparent that Milosevic was unwilling to have any military implementation force at all and that he was simply creating obstacles to a settlement.

At this late stage, there was still a place for diplomacy--but Milosevic let it pass, calculating that the international community lacked resolution. How wrong he was. Since then, we have had more than 11 weeks of bombing, in which the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy submarine-launched cruise missiles played an important part.

Eventually, the pressure wore the Serbs down. We never said that it would be easy, and so it proved. On 2 June, Milosevic and the Serbian Parliament agreed a peace plan put to them on behalf of the international community by President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian representative. Last night, following considerable prevarication in the past few days, senior representatives of the Yugoslav army and of the Ministry of the Interior police signed the detailed agreement committing them to a tight withdrawal timetable.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. The military technical agreement signed last night was not "negotiated" with the Serbs in the tent at Kumanovo. NATO made no concessions. Any changes to the agreement were made purely on the grounds of military practicability. General Sir Michael Jackson is no soft touch and he has done a remarkable job.

The task in front of General Jackson and the international community is formidable. The Serbs' track record of honouring promises is certainly not good. Once a verifiable--I emphasise that word--withdrawal has begun, there can be a pause in the bombing. The United Nations Security Council resolution, the text of which the G8 Foreign Ministers have already agreed, can then be passed. KFOR, with its strong NATO core and its unified command, can then deploy. Only when all Serb forces are out of Kosovo--and the security zone within Serbia itself--will the campaign be brought to an end.

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